Jodhpur, Sep 30 (IANS) At least 144 people were killed in a stampede early Tuesday in this Rajasthan town when hundreds of devotees rushed down a narrow pathway from a hilltop temple located in the Mehrangarh fort, the police said.
Almost all the dead were believed to be males because the stampede took place in the male section of the two parallel and winding barricades authorities at the Chamunda Mata temple had set up on the mountain slope for devotees to walk up and down the hill.
It was one of the worst tragedies of its kind in Rajasthan. It was also the worst temple tragedy in the country after 145 people died in a similar stampede at the Naina Devi shrine in Himachal Pradesh this year.
State home secretary S.N. Thanvi told IANS that at least 144 people had been killed in the tragedy and the toll was likely to rise. He added that 300 people were injured in the accident.
The stampede occurred around 5.30 a.m. and about 150 feet from the shrine when the devotees were rushing downhill on their way back to the town.
The dead and the barely living had been taken to several hospitals in Jodhpur town, about 330 km from Jaipur, the state capital.
Home Minister G.C. Kataria called it 'a massive tragedy' and said the stampede happened when a male devotee slipped and fell on the narrow path, triggering panic run that eventually led to so many deaths.
According to Kataria, after one man fell, the barricades gave away and the others coming down the hill also began to roll down the pathway.
'People just kept falling over one another,' he said.
Police sources and residents said there were 8,000-10,000 people in the temple when the tragedy struck.
The temple is located in the massive Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur. It is one of the best maintained forts in the whole of India and is one of the major tourist attractions in Rajasthan.
On Tuesday, thousands had gathered at the temple to pray to mark the beginning of the Navratri festival.
'There were at least 10,000 people when the incident occurred at around 5.30 a.m. I suddenly saw people running and falling on one another. There was complete chaos,' a young man, Sharat, told IANS.
Once the stampede ended, others from down the hill rushed up and started carrying the victims to the base of the hill.
Chamunda was the favourite goddess of Rao Jodha, the king of Jodhpur. He brought her idol from his old capital of Mandore in 1460 and installed it at the Mehrangarh fort. The goddess remains the patron deity of Jodhpur's royal family.
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